For thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans, Native Americans inhabited what is today Charlestown. Their lives were centered around hunting, fishing and agriculture, which they carried out in all parts of Charlestown. Native Americans continued to play a substantial role in local affairs during the ensuing historical period. Their heritage lives on in the continuing presence of the Narragansetts - their lands, institutions and historic sites that are still in tribal use.
One of the first written records of European contact in Charlestown dates back as early as the 1630s, when Col. John Mason marched to Connnecticut to fight the Pequots and stopped for the night at what was known as Ninigret's Fort. Evidence of Dutch trading with the Niantics at Fort Ninigret dates to the early 1600s, and archaeological research suggests this site was in use as early as 700 AD.
In 1660, a private company organized in Newport purchased the land known as Misquamicoke (Misquamicut) from the well-respected Indian Sachem, Socho. The agreement was called the Misquamicut Purchase. The land was comprised of the present-day towns of Westerly, Charlestown, Richmond and Hopkinton. By 1669, the Town of Westerly was incorporated, and included the same four towns, becoming the fifth oldest town in the state.
At that time, there were only about thirty families in the entire area. Jeffrey Champlin, one of the original Misquamicut settlers, acquired a large tract of land in Charlestown, on which the Naval Air Station was later located. The Stantons also acquired large landholdings. Robert Stanton was one of the Misquamicut purchasers. Thomas Stanton had a trading post on the Pawcatuck River and set up a post in Quonochontaug around that time as well. A few of these earlier homes still stand.
The era of large plantations had begun and they were prosperous until around the time of the Revolutionary War, which caused their demise. The more northern plantations were generally livestock, dairy and the raising of Narragansett Pacers, a horse much in demand in the southern colonies. The Champlins, on their 2,000-acre plantation, specialized in sheep production. Reportedly, Joseph Stanton's "lordship" in Charlestown consisted of a four-and-a-half mile tract on land containing 40 horses and as many slaves. The average coastal farm was said to have about 200 acres of cropland and pasture and up to 100 acres of woodland.
In 1738, Charlestown separated from the town of Westerly and was named in honor of Charles II, the English King who had granted Rhode Island its charter. Brought on primarily by the hardship to citizens traveling to attend town meetings and gatherings, the separation was finally passed, although not without much debate. At that point in time, Richmond was still part of Charlestown and would not separate until 1747.
A young, colonial Charlestown was active and prosperous with its many mills, farms and coastal environment. The establishment of the Old Post Road along its seaboard had become a well-traveled route, thankfully as a result of its presence as a Native American trail thousands of years old. It now served as a means of communication and commerce within the colonies. Charlestown would go through many growing pains over the next 300 years, along with the rest of Rhode Island's early towns, but retained its diversity, cultural heritage and its rich history.
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